Why Axl Rose joining AC/DC is a brilliant idea

Guns N Roses Axl Rose live photo 2014
(Image credit: Getty)

Why the fuck would AC/DC give up now?

For now, set aside the pissy “they said/he said” brouhaha percolating between AC/DC and singer Brian Johnson. We’ll get to that. The unassailable fact remains that with 14 shows left, the mightiest hard rock band on Planet Earth are once again without a singer. And they’ve got 14 shows left. Fourteen.

To seriously entertain a scenario where the loss of a singer forces AC/DC to shut everything down and call it a day is to daftly ignore the band’s 43 year history— a legacy defined by a ruthless survival, fuelled by their own unwavering belief that nothing can stop AC/DC. Why should anyone think differently? These are the very moments that define this band, whose deliriously charismatic frontman, Bon Scott, died on the heels of their biggest release to date — Highway To Hell. Back in 1980, when that all went down, fans and detractors alike saw the end draw clearly into view, when beyond all reasonable speculation, the band responded with Back In Black – the second-highest selling studio album since the Big Bang. Not even death could slow them down.

Since then, AC/DC have survived a parade of seemingly crippling setbacks: they survived the “Night Stalker” scandal in the mid-80s, when an AC/DC-loving psychopath named Richard Ramirez slaughtered sixteen Californians before finally being arrested — in an AC/DC shirt. Another killer was later found with AC/DC swag and the band all but disappeared for a few years. They fought through the debilitating alcoholism of their steely-eyed leader, Malcolm Young in 1988, bringing in their nephew Stevie to fill in for a campaign of US dates until Mal’s return. They survived the death of three fans during a show in Salt Lake City in 1991, when the crowd surged toward the stage early in the set, fatally crushing three teenagers as the band, wholly unaware of the tragedy only yards in front of them, played on. Then there was the unceremonious departures of guys like Mark Evans, Phil Rudd, Chris Slade, Simon Wright and Phil Rudd again. But those personnel changes shrunk in comparison to the seismic tragedy of Malcolm finally succumbing to dementia earlier last year and leaving his band amid a growing list of other health issues. Their leader, founder and principal riff conjurer was gone, and they soldiered on. Because that’s what AC/DC fucking do.

With ten shows left, how could anybody tethered to sanity by the thinnest of threads ever think they’d call it quits?

Brian’s out. Nobody has ever accused the Young brothers of suffering from an abundance of kindness or compassion and therefore what’s happened with Brian lately feels disquietingly familiar. According to comedian Jim Breuer, with whom Brian apparently spoke quite candidly, Brian was certainly facing severe damage to his hearing, but he reportedly told the band that he wasn’t giving up and that he wanted to finish the tour. And yet the band came out and said that due to Brian’s condition, they were cancelling the final ten shows. As news outlets ran with the story, Breuer quickly clarified that he had exaggerated the gist of his conversation with Brian. But he never said it was inaccurate.

And just like that, those final ten shows were back on, with rumours swirling that they were looking for a new singer. Unlike some bands, where other members have stepped up to fill in for ailing (or missing) singers, it would be a titanic understatement to point out that AC/DC have no other vocalists in the ranks and anybody who has heard their backup vocals understands this deeply. They could certainly bring in some punter who sounds like Brian – a short term version of Judas Priest’s Ripper Owens phase. In fact, it would be hard to introduce a vocalist who didn’t have Brian’s style of vocals; the music demands it and fans wouldn’t have it if some guy who sounded like Sammy Hagar took a stab at Givin’ The Dog A Bone. Various singers from bands ranging from Krokus to the Hives have thrown their hat in the ring, but all along, there was only one viable direction, and that was pulling in a high-profile singer who knows the material, who has the range and who’s got the time.

Enter Axl Rose.

It’s utterly fucking brilliant. First, Axl has long worn his AC/DC bona fides on his sleeve. Hell, he’s been covering AC/DC since GNR’s original lineup and anybody who’s watched their version of Whole Lotta Rosie on YouTube must grudgingly admit that he riotously delivers the punch and snarl of the original. There is no debate that Axl has the style and the range to handle the band’s current setlist.

Secondly, let’s indulge our snark here and acknowledge that from the outside looking in, placing your million-dollar stage show and the livelihood of your band and crew in the hands of a notorious control freak whose enduring refusal to honor his stage times betrays a jaw-dropping disregard for his own fans, carries no shortage of risk. Except there’s simply no reality in this vast multiverse where AC/DC would put up with one tiny grain of that strain of bullshit rockstar histrionics. We already know there’s a line of well-known vocalists a mile long queued up and ready to go if the Axl Experiment doesn’t work out. Say what you will about Axl, but he’s possessed of high intelligence and his own keen survival instinct; he acutely understands that before him lies a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to elevate his stature among his fans and peers and to carve his name on the wall of the AC/DC legacy for all time. No way will Axl blow this; one easily sees him stepping right into the “Aw shucks, I’m just flattered to be here” vibe for these remaining ten shows.

Finally, think about the ticket holders. If you had a ticket to one of these ten limited shows shows, which boast just one original member of AC/DC and one long-timer (Cliff Williams), and word comes down that the band have hired the guy from Krokus to front them, are you going to go? StubHub and other ticket brokers would need to buy new servers to accommodate all of the people trying to claw back some cash on their tickets. But put Axl Rose — the most mercurial frontmen in hard rock today — in front of the world’s biggest rock band, and now you’ve got something to see. Suddenly the demand eclipses the supply, particularly given the exclusive nature of these ten shows.

This isn’t about nostalgia and it’s not about making headlines, it’s about making a point — the same point that AC/DC have made with every record, every tour and every comeback of their forty-plus years playing music: nothing can stop AC/DC.

And you lucky bastards with tickets to these shows? Buckle up, because you’re in for one hell of a ride!

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.